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2nd Anglo-Boer War

2nd Anglo-Boer War

There have been several wars in which the British and residents of South Africa have fought. Not all of them gave the British a victory.

Victorian expansionist policies in the second half of the 19th century had brought Britain into conflict on several occasions with native African states.  The Boers, tough Dutch settlers determined to preserve their territories and their independence, resisted Britain’s attempt to annex the Transvaal and gain control of its recently discovered gold mines, with the utmost confidence that victory would be achieved quickly.  This was in spite of its failure in the first war and resounding defeat by the Boers at Majuba Hill in 1881.

The first was the Anglo-Zulu War, from January to July 1879 between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom, and signalled the end of the Zulus as an independent nation.  There are a reported 1,900 British killed and 6,930 Zulus killed and amongst the many battles fought one of the most well-known was Rorke’s Drift, where some 3,000-4,000 Zulus attacked the mission station which was garrisoned by around 150 men, of these were 39 patients in the hospital.  At 4.30pm on 22 January the Zulus began their attack until about 2am – at 7am on the following morning a regiment of Zulus appeared and the British manned their positions again, but no attack materialised, they left the way they had come – swiftly and silently.

The casualties recorded were British – 17 killed and 15 wounded; Zulus – over 350 confirmed killed and about 500 wounded.

Next was the First Anglo-Boer War, from December 1880 until March 1881, and was between the British and the South African Republic Boers.  The British had consolidated their power over most of the colonies of South Africa in 1879 after the Anglo-Zulu War, and attempted to impose an unpopular system of confederation on the region.  The Boers protested and in Dec 1880 they revolted.  In many battles the British found themselves outmanoeuvred and outperformed by the highly mobile and skilled Boer marksmen.  The British government of William Gladstone signed a truce on 6 March, and in the final peace treaty on 23 March 1881, gave the Boers self-government in the South African Republic (Transvaal) under a theoretical British oversight.  Casualties recorded were British – 408 killed and 315 wounded; Boers – 41 killed and 47 wounded.  When the strength numbers are taken into account – Boers – about 700; British – about 1,700, and the final result considered, this was not a British victory.

And then there was the Second Anglo-Boer War, from October 1899 until May 1902, and was between the British and two independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic.  After a protracted hard-fought war, the two independent republics lost and were absorbed into the British Empire.  The strength of the opposing forces is given as:-

British – 347,000, Colonial Forces – 150,000, with Black South African Auxiliaries – 100,000.

The Boer Commandos: Transvaal Boers – 25,000, Free State Boers – 15,000, Cape Boers – 7,000, Black Boer Auxiliaries – 10,000 and Foreign Volunteers – 5,400.

Casualties are listed as British Empire forces – 22,092 killed, 75,430 returned home sick or wounded, over 900 missing, and 22,900 wounded.  For the Boer forces – 6,189 killed, 24,000 Boer prisoners sent overseas and 21,256 ‘Bitter-Enders’ (a faction of Boer guerrilla fighters who resisted the British Empire in the later stages of the war) who surrendered at the end of the war.  Civilian casualties – 46,370, of whom 26,370 were Boer women and children who died in concentration camps, along with another 20,000+ black Africans of the 115,000 interned in separate concentration camps.

Of these three wars, the QOOH/OY were involved in only the 2nd Anglo-Boer War and this is what this page is about.

Oxfordshire Yeomanry units which served in the Second Anglo-Boer War

          40th Company, 10th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry – arrived in South Africa (as part of the first contingent) on 27th February 1900.
          59th Company, 15th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry – arrived in South Africa (as part of the first contingent) on 29th March 1900

On 13 December 1899, the decision to allow volunteer forces to serve in the Second Boer War was agreed.  Due to the string of defeats during ‘Black Week’ in December 1899, the British government realised they were going to need more troops than just the Regular Army, thus issuing a Royal Warrant on 24th December 1899.  This warrant officially created the Imperial Yeomanry (IY).

The Royal Warrant asked standing Yeomanry regiments to provide service companies of approximately 115 men each.  In addition to this, many British citizens (usually middle or upper class) volunteered to join the new regiments.  The first contingent of recruits contained 550 officers, 10,371 men in 20 battalions of 4 companies each, which arrived in South Africa between February and April 1900.  Upon arrival, the regiments were sent throughout the zone of operations.

The initial organisation of the IY was in the hands of a committee, headed by three prominent commanding officers of Yeomanry regiments – Lt Col Lucas (Loyal Suffolk Hussars), Lord Chesham (Royal Bucks Hussars), and the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars commander, Lord Valentia.

There was great enthusiasm in the country for volunteering to go to South Africa.  A high proportion of these were not in fact serving Yeomen, but new recruits who came forward because of the war.  Horses were provided for those did not bring their own and for those who did, there was a payment of £40.  Daily pay for the men was to be 1s 3d (£0.06 !)

It was never envisaged that complete regiments of Yeomanry would be able to serve as a unit; instead, those who volunteered from a regiment were formed into companies in larger units.  In Oxfordshire Lord Valentia asked for 120 volunteers (a company), but those who responded formed two companies in separate battalions (the 40th Coy of the 10th Bn and the 59th Coy of the 15th Bn).  He was prepared to accept former members of the regiment, as well as serving yeomen, also any suitable man not an ex-member.  Many young men chose this option as a short-term break (for a year at the most) from the routine of respectable civilian jobs.

Among them was Sidney Peel, one of the new volunteers from Oxfordshire, who with telling insight, recorded the motives of his fellow recruits in the IY.

Some came because they saw a chance of emigrating at government expense; some for love of sport and excitement; some because they were tired of their present occupation; some because they wanted a job; some because they wanted a medal, and some because others came.

The Honourable Sidney Peel, barrister and fellow of Trinity College, was the 3rd son of Viscount Arthur Peel, formerly Speaker of the House of Commons.  But his lack of previous military experience and his willingness to accept even so humble a position for the chance of the adventure, placed him in the ranks – Trooper 8008 !  He was a member of the 40th Coy IY.

The Imperial Yeomanry’s first action was on 5th April 1900, when members of the 3rd and 10th Battalions fought Boer volunteers led by Frenchman Count de Villebois-Mareuil at Boshof.  After a series of tactical errors, the Boers were subsequently surrounded.  The Count was killed, and the Imperial Yeomanry was victorious, suffering only 3 casualties.  One of these was Capt Cecil Boyle (see below).  But the Boer would prove to be a much tougher and elusive enemy as they soon showed at Lindley later the next month.

Exact numbers of men raised into the Imperial Yeomanry are hard to determine, but were in excess of 30,000 men.  Leo Amery’s “The Times History of the War in South Africa” commented that :-

Altogether 35,000 Imperial Yeomanry went to South Africa.  Of this number probably at least 2,000 went out a second time and so have been counted twice over.  On the other hand, after October 29, 1901, when it was made permissible, a certain number of enlistments for the Imperial Yeomanry took place in South Africa, while 833 officers and men were raised at home under Imperial Yeomanry conditions for a corps raised partly in South Africa and partly at home.

After the Second Boer War, the Imperial Yeomanry did not participate in any further conflicts and was officially disbanded in 1908.  The individual companies of the IY returned to their British based Yeomanry regiments.  The ‘Imperial Yeomanry’ lineage was carried on by the Yeomanry regiments from which the IY companies were created and thus the IY companies earned the battle honour “South Africa” for their parent regiments.  A large number of veterans returned to serve part-time in the Yeomanry at home and were called upon again into service in World War One.

As part of a general reorganisation of the entire home-based Yeomanry force in April 1901, the collective designation ‘Imperial Yeomanry’ replaced that of ‘Yeomanry Cavalry’.  This was in recognition of the performance of the IY companies during the war in South Africa.  This distinction ceased in 1907-8, when further changes brought the 54 Yeomanry regiments then in existence, into the newly established Territorial Army, and the Imperial Yeomanry was officially terminated.

The 1903 report of His Majesty’s Commission on the war commented :-

On the whole, the Imperial Yeomanry seem to have done very good service in the war, but to have suffered from the mistake which was made in not organising a system of drafts to maintain the strength of the force, a mistake due, in no doubt like others, to the under-rating of the resisting power of the Boers, and the belief in the speedy termination of the war.  If this system had been organised upon a county basis, a steady flow of selected men trained to ride and shoot at home, could have been maintained and the necessity avoided in sending out later, 17,000 untrained and unorganised men to receive their education in the face of the enemy.”

Oxfordshire Yeomanry Officers of note in the 2nd Anglo-Boer War

The First….

Boyle – Captain, Cecil William – 40th Coy/10th Bn, Imperial Yeomanry

Killed at Tweefontein Farm near Boshof, near Driefontein, Orange Free State on 5th April 1900.  He had come to South Africa in December 1899, bringing with him 30 of his own horses for active service.

Boyle, who was the first officer of the IY to die in the war, is interred in the cemetery in Boshof.

And the Last….

Willis – Lieutenant, T – 40th Coy/10th Bn, Imperial Yeomanry

Killed in action near Wolmaransstad, Transvaal on 26th February 1902. 

The last officer of the IY to be killed in action during the campaign

Magniac DSO, – Captain, Hubert – 59th Coy/15th Bn, Imperial Yeomanry

Extract from the London Gazette of Tuesday 23rd April 1901 :-

“to be Companion of the Distinguished Service Order – Captain Hubert Magniac, 15th Battalion the Imperial Yeomanry, for gallantry in defence of posts in the Boer attack on Modderfontein.  Dated 31st January 1901.”

The insignia was presented to Major Magniac by King Edward VII on 2nd June 1902.  This officer who was twice Mentioned-in-Despatches, received the Queen’s South Africa medal (with 3 clasps).  He went on to receive the King’s South Africa medal (with 2 clasps) and promoted to Major.

He died on 24th march 1909 and an obituary notice appeared in The Times.

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